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Daytona 600: Neil Hodgson misses double victory and plays fireman

Published: 09 March 2008

American Honda’s Neil Hodgson twice came very close to winning his first ever race on a 600cc sport bike, but ultimately ended the day frustrated by the side of the track.

In his first, and likely only, race on a 600, the pole-sitter Hodgson had put himself in good position to finish on the podium in his race debut for American Honda.

But within five laps the clutch failed, then the Honda caught fire, and Hodgson nearly did as well, before he extinguished the flames. With it went any chance of glory in the biggest race on the American calendar.

“It was really exciting what happened then,” Hodgson, who could smell something burning as he tried to push the machine, said.

“All of sudden there’s flames going up on the side. I’ve never thrown a bike down and I don’t want to.

“So I carried on trying to push it with the flames and then eventually thought I’m going to have to, because I’m going to look like an idiot when I get burned alive saving my bike.

“So I let my bike down and walked towards the wall then I thought ‘I’m in the middle of nowhere, no one’s around’.

“I looked over the wall and there was a brush with like a dustpan full of water, so I threw that on the bike and it went out. I was like a fireman!

So then I picked the bike back and parked it against the wall.”

Long before that there had been problems for Hodgson, who had been among the group of Hondas and running strongly at the front.

Erion Honda’s Josh Hayes was setting the pace, along with teammate Jake Zemke.

But Zemke’s race went wrong at the first pit stop, when the team tried to fit a rear wheel with the wrong sprocket. Zemke was forced to sit and wait as Hayes came in for his pit stop, losing valuable time in the process. Zemke finished 13th.

But Neil Hodgson’s chances of winning took a hit when he overshot the back straight chicane on lap 44.

“I was offline on the dirty bit, I went back an extra gear to make sure I got it stopped, then I just lost control of it,” he said.

“And when it came back, it was like, right, two choices; I can lean it in and crash or go on the grass and crash. But I thought I’ve got to go on the grass, which was obviously, as you can imagine and just hit the bales.”

Hodgson ran slowly into the plastic covered hay bales, backed up and continued. And four laps later when Hayes made his second pit stop on lap 48, Neil Hodgson took over the lead.

He was third for one lap, then moved into second which is where he was on the 64th lap when his clutch let him down.

Had Hodgson have finished, he might have won the race.

Erion Honda’s Josh Hayes was disqualified for an illegal crankshaft alteration. That handed victory to runner-up Chaz Davies (Attack Kawasaki).

Davies became the first Brit to ever win the Daytona 200. Teammate Steve Rapp moved up to second, with Larry Pegram third on a Ducati.

For the second year in a row, it was a stinging defeat for Honda. All four riders struck trouble.

Hodgson lost his clutch, Zemke had a pit stop snafu, Miguel Duhamel was black flagged after swapping to his backup bike after the first lap, when he’d burnt his clutch off the start. It took race officials until the 58th lap to finally get him off the track. And then there’s Josh Hayes’ disqualification.

Hodgson fared better on the Superbike, finishing seventh in the race which was run almost immediately after the Daytona 200.

Hodgson said: “I was actually pleased with the Superbike to be honest, because I really struggled all weekend.

“It’s been a bit embarrassing to be honest. I feel I’ve not ridden to my potential on the Superbike but I find it actually difficult jumping from one bike to the next and trying to concentrate, because it’s always back to back.”

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